Prehistoric man obviously had some degree of veneration for the
female form, judging by Paleolithic
sculptures of well endowed women. Anthropologists are unsure
if they symbols of fertility or erotic talismans passed around by
lonely hunters. These Venuses served a need or the common good somehow,
even if they don't follow our strict definition of pin-up..
Ancient Greeks were unashamed by modern standards in acceptance
of the nude figure. The original Olympics were contested by naked
athletes. Male athletes. Still, there are many examples of Hellenic
Godesses, all in fashionable dishabille. The Greek Gods also
had a tendency to interact with mere mortals in many carnal stories.
Depictions of these sorts of encounters call for a degree of audience
participation, understanding and involvement.
In Pompeii and the Roman world, erotic art was woven into the fabric
of everyday life. Frank sexual depictions were found in public marketplaces,
murals and sculptures. Once Christianity became the official religion
of the state under Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, immoral
'pagan' imagry was banished and driven underground. Thus, unless
you have a fetish for Mary Magdeline, the Dark Ages had begun. Beyond
religious artifacts and decorative arts, there was scant representation
of sacriligious pleasures of the flesh during Medieval times.
When a merchant class could support artists instead of just The
Church, a new definition of feminine beauty could be commissioned.
With municipal buildings and private villas to decorate in the city
states of Italy, the myths and historical figures of ancient Rome
provided ample material. Leda
and the Swan, the birth
of Venus and other fables provided convenient excuses to display
comely nudes. All facets of science and secular humanism were brought
to bear in creating the great body of works known as the Renaissance.
Such classical values were imparted by Da Vinci (1452-1519), Michaelangelo
(1475-1564), Titian (1485-1576) and others.
In Europe during the 1800s, there were movements to escape the
excesses of the Baroque and Rococo periods and return to classical
was formalized in Europe as an outgrowth of Academic
Art and again the popular characters from the past were represented
by mostly nude models, such as Paul Thurman's 'Psyche'.
display nude alegorical figures in lush exotic settings without
reproach. An odalisque, or harem concubine was a popular subject.
Also in the 19th Century, Classicism was taken to an extreme by
the English movement called the Pre-Raphaelites.
While their strict adherence to Renaissance styles did not last
long, their works were very influential on the Golden Age of Illustration.
Early American influences in magazine and print illustration include
Howard Pyle (1853-1911), his Brandywine school and students such
as N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), Frank Schoonover
(1877-1972) and Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966).
Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), John La Gatta (1894 - 1976) and Andrew
Loomis (1892-1959) were also major forces in magazine and advertising
illustration. The Arts and Crafts and decorative Art Nouveau movements
in Europe also contributed to the artistry and styles of the times.
What good is a work of art if only a select few can view it? The
middle ages offered illuminated manuscripts, available only to wealthy
patrons. Even the development of printing didn't democratize illustration
because of the small scale and painstaking process in producing
graphics. The intersection of economics and technology would provide
an improved means of distribution over the last two centuries. Lithography
was invented in the end of the Eighteenth Century. The birth of
photography soon after provided new techniques for printing and
the adoption of the offset method at the turn of the twentieth century
allowed for larger, faster and better quality print jobs. Once printed
materials were available to a vast public, the Golden Age of Illustration
was said to begin.
The Golden Age is conveniently placed from 1880 to 1920, although
there are arguments which can take it from the end of the Civil
War until World War Two. The development of economical high speed
printing and an increased literacy built a tremendous audience for
the only available forms of mass communications at the time: Books,
papers and magazines. Publishers and later advertising agencies
competed for the services of those artists, such as Norman
Rockwell (1894-1978) who could generate memorable images for
mass consumption, oftentimes on strict deadlines.
Following the War, the realistic end of the spectrum was consigned
to photographs of varying quality. With such a glut
of magazines to fill, skilled photographers and attractive models
were in short supply. The art world was overtaken by the Abstract
Impressionists, a style that is not condusive to the pin-up genre!
If art can be said to hold up a mirror to society, then the pin-up
occupies a particular place of honor in modern art, particularly
that of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Prior to that,
Duchamp and dadists explored the concept of what constitutes art.
A painting of a pipe, a 'fountain' made from a urinal and other
works challenged the role an artist played in relation to the world
Provocative images, particularly used in advertising, were on the
blade's edge between sex and commerce. As consumerism rose, particularly
after World War II, the icon of pitchwoman was particularly ripe
Then in 1957, the seminal Pop
Artist Richard Hamilton outlined
the following principles as characteristic of his work:
Popular (Designed for a mass audience)
Transient (Short term solution)
Expendable (Easily forgotten)
Young (Aimed at youth)
The Pop (for Popular) Art revolution had begun. Drawing on atavistic
figures like Marilyn Monroe or an anonymous
sex symbol, reality is processed and packaged up
Since such artists' work is exhibited in museums, galleries and
coffee table books, they do not strictly pass the test for mass-produced
pin-up designation. Still, their very existence proves how durable
an architype the pin-up model is.
Additionally, there are several contemporary artists such as Nagel,
Kacere and Koons who reassert what it is
to take command of their media and use a photorealistic or painterly